News National Anthem controversy: Little Harper Nielsen’s plea for empathy shamed those who lack it most
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Anthem controversy: Little Harper Nielsen’s plea for empathy shamed those who lack it most

Harper Nielson national anthem pauline hanson
A nine-year-old girl showed more sense and humanity than any of the shrieking cry-bullies attacking her national anthem protest. Photo: Twitter
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A predictable rage-quake shook up Vegemiteland this week, or at least that part of our big, brown, wide, wonderful yeast extract of a nation which loves nothing more than to grab a fistful of its own knickers and violently twist them into a Gordian Knot of fury and loathing.

And the object of this Orwellian Two Minutes of Hate? Nine-year-old school student, Harper Nielsen, who refused to stand for the national anthem because … well, we can get into that later.

But watching the raging dumpster fire of the vanities as the inevitable trolls, panic merchants and self promoters smelled raw clickbait on the interwebz, I had a moment of clarity about the way we live now, snarling and spitting and raking at each other over the slightest provocation.

A nine-year-old girl with more sense and humanity than any of the shrieking cry-bullies piling onto her gave us all a primary school Ted Talk on empathy — or rather it’s absence from modern discourse.

For a while, the September 11 atrocities were held responsible for having killed off irony in our popular culture.

But irony is resilient and like a Seinfeld episode on a streaming service, it never really goes away.

What has undoubtedly suffered in our collective consciousness since a bunch of hairy death cultists crashed their planes into the Twin Towers, the Pentagon and a Pennsylvania paddock is not irony, but empathy.

The sorrow and pity of our age is an inability or outright refusal to understand and share the feelings of others with whom we differ; an absence which prevents us from seeing past that difference to our shared frailties.

The failure of empathy is necessary for the baser angels of our nature to prevail; our greed, our bigotry, a grotesque shamelessness, performative cruelty, and a host of brutish and unfeeling habits of thought and deed that lead us, in the end, to crude ugliness.

The spectacle of our fallen nature running wild is nowhere more vividly painted than in American politics right now, but the response to Harper Neilsen by the worst, most unusual suspects hereabouts was ambitiously awful and instructively spiteful.

Leading the online flash mob, naturally, we find Pauline Hanson.

Harper Nielson national anthem pauline hanson
Pauline Hanson released a video addressing Harper Nielson’s protest on Friday. Photo: AAP

With competition so fierce for the angry simpleton vote it was a laydown certain certainty that our very own orange horror clown would unleash her Trumpian ID.

As a woman she had the advantage over rivals such as Cory Bernardi or Bob Katter in that she could play with the imagery of physical violence in a way that a man might shrink from; or at least any man with half a brain, might.

“I tell you what, I’d give her a kick up the backside,” Ms Hanson said, without a hint of ironic distance or metaphor.

It’s one thing to speak in such a fashion of, say, a teenager nearing adulthood who could easily defend herself against any such assault by an ageing senator with presumably more time logged in at the Parliamentary wine bar than a mixed martial arts dojo.

But its a repugnant thing to say of a child, which is probably why she said it.

There is a nastiness of tone and intent which was once found only in the most sordid fringes of politics and edge culture that has been normalised and mainstreamed. It thrives in the absence of empathy.

This is why the reaction to a nine-year-old child speaking her mind and acting upon her surprisingly well thought out beliefs was so unhinged. It threatened to expose and disrupt an increasingly dominant paradigm.

Harper Nielsen did nothing more than imagine herself into the place of another person, or a whole class of people, the First Peoples of Australia who, she pointed out, had little reason to sing the praises of their successor culture.

She achieved something most adults do not care to even attempt, at least as regards the fate of Aboriginal Australia.

She made an effort to understand and to share the feelings of others from whom she differed. Even worse, in the hard, pitiless eyes of her assailants, she did something about it. The source of her inspiration is irrelevant.

For the people she defended, she was a diminutive hero with a giant heart.

“I’ve got much more confidence in this nation in ten to fifteen to twenty years’ time when you have young people like that coming through,” Brisbane Aboriginal community elder Sam Watson said.

For those she threatened, there could be only one response.

Her empathy, all empathy, must be crushed.

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